MICHAEL ANTHONY, a Bath resident, recently started the Homeless Solidarity Project, a peer support and advocacy group for homeless individuals in local communities.

MICHAEL ANTHONY, a Bath resident, recently started the Homeless Solidarity Project, a peer support and advocacy group for homeless individuals in local communities.

BATH

As homelessness continues to be a rising problem in Maine, Bath resident Michael Anthony is trying to make a difference through the Homeless Solidarity Project, a peer support and advocacy group for homeless individuals in local communities.

“We are people who have experienced homelessness or are currently homeless working together to support one another,” he said. “I’m just trying to give it a name and give it a face and maybe help people unite and bring a coherence to it.”

Anthony shared that much of his drive stems from some of the barriers he experienced when he was homeless himself.

Despite the number services available to the homeless in larger cities like Portland, he said that some service owners are not as receptive to peer leadership or allowing “people that they’re serving to have any part in defining the service or charting the future.”

The results can be “disempowering” for those in the homeless community, he said.

“We’re not against the services and we don’t want to feed into that narrative,” Anthony said. “We want to support the services — they need more funding, they need help — but we want to have more people in the streets to have a say because we just see a lot of ways that (services) can save more money and they can do things more effectively.”

Other problems can occur when homeless individuals take to camping when shelters are full or unwelcoming, as they often risk the chance of camp raids or having their possessions destroyed by police, Anthony said.

“You have to wake up at 6:30 and break down your tent … and carry it around with you all day long — like 50 pounds of camping gear — or you can stash your stuff at the risk of it being found,” he said. “That’s your survival at the time so it’s really difficult, and for many people a traumatic thing to have to deal with the fear of someone destroying your life.

“What motivates me the most is what I consider rights violation and people’s attempts to survive being criminalized,” he added. “There’s a lot of stigma around it; there’s a lot of prejudice and fear mongering.”

Organizing an effort like the Homeless Solidarity Project also brings challenges of its own.

“The difficulty with homeless organizing is that people don’t want to identify with homelessness and it’s not like a point of unity,” Anthony said. “People more or less want to avoid homeless people when they’re homeless. And then once you’re not homeless anymore, you just want to forget about it. So there are a lot of barriers to it, but we’re working on it.”

As a fairly new organization, Anthony has been focusing on outreach and smaller events for now.

He shared some of the basic day-to-day work involved, which includes gathering and distributing seasonal gear — jackets, socks, boots, tents and sleeping bags — to those in need. On Tuesdays, he also volunteers at the Neighborhood Cafe on Washington Street in Bath, a space he hopes will eventually be used as a drop-off location for gear donations.

Next month, Anthony will be organizing a kick-off party in Portland to raise awareness for “Spring Shake for Socks and Shoes,” where all April long, the organization will be collecting donations of socks and shoes to distribute to the homeless.

But he doesn’t plan on just stopping there.

Eventually, Anthony hopes to get a communal cooperative house set up in Bath for people in recovery from drugs and other addictions in order to help them “get off the streets” and to provide a “safe space, kind of a different place to go to get away from their friends or their connections,” he said.

“It’s hard to kick drugs in that environment, so I think that some sort of rehab housing cooperative thing could be really useful in this space,” he said.

To learn more, visit the Homeless Solidarity Project website or their Facebook page.

Socks & shoes

NEXT MONTH, Michael Anthony will be organizing a kick-off party in Portland to raise awareness for “Spring Shake for Socks and Shoes,” where all April long, the Homeless Solidarity Project will be collecting donations of socks and shoes to distribute to the homeless.


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